The New York Review of Books
The Lonely Struggle of Lee Ching-yu
August 16th, 2017, 12:17 PM
Lee Ming-che in a sense is like other political prisoners in China, a man stripped of rights, facing in solitary fashion the organized power of the Chinese state, but he is also different because he is from Taiwan. He is in fact the only Taiwanese ever to be charged with subversion of state power, and this imparts a special meaning to his case.
The Books We Don’t Understand
August 15th, 2017, 12:17 PM
What is going on when a book simply makes no sense to you? Perhaps a classic that everyone praises. Or something new you’re being asked to review. I don’t mean that you find the style tiresome, or the going slow; simply that the characters, their reflections, their priorities, the way they interact, do not really add up.
Ending at the Beginning
August 13th, 2017, 12:17 PM
For a person as sensitive as Kafka was, or at least as he presented himself as being—it is entirely possible to view his life in a light other than the one he himself shone upon it—inner escape was the only available strategy. “If we are to believe his own personal mythology,” biographer Reiner Stach writes, “he drifted out of life and into literature,” to the point, indeed, that as an adult he would declare that he was literature, and nothing else. Stach, however, offers another and, in its way, far more interesting possibility when he asks, “What if literature was the only feasible way back for him?”
The City Strikes a Pose
August 12th, 2017, 12:17 PM
Jamel Shabazz is a kind of anti-Walker Evans. Born in Brooklyn in 1960, he has documented New York street life, largely in the city’s black neighborhoods, with a cheerful guilelessness. A new collection of his work from his beginnings in 1980 to the present, displays Shabazz’s wish to honor and flatter, to fashion touching tributes to a certain kind of black, urban life.
Trump’s Cruel Deportations
August 11th, 2017, 12:17 PM
A fair immigration system would consider family and community ties before ordering deportation, but US law generally ignores them, and Trump’s policies are taking this to new extremes. Congress also bears responsibility for its abject failure to reform a system that everyone agrees is broken. It should require a hearing before deportation—or better yet, find a way to regularize the status of people who deserve legal recognition.
Our Hackable Democracy
August 10th, 2017, 12:17 PM
The recent news that voting machines had been hacked for sport at the Def Con hackers’ conference, should not have been news at all. Since computerized voting was introduced more than two decades ago, it has been shown again and again to have significant vulnerabilities that put a central tenet of American democracy—free and fair elections—at risk.
The Terrorists Go Shopping
August 9th, 2017, 12:17 PM
A shabby-chic cadre of photogenic young Parisians coordinate a series of terrorist attacks, blowing up or setting fire to buildings and monuments throughout the city, then take refuge after nightfall in an empty department store. Nocturama, the French filmmaker Bertrand Bonello’s daring and controversial follow-up to his 2014 Yves Saint Laurent biopic, is at once timely and timeless. It sets the aftermath of two centuries of French history to a hypnotic, trancelike beat.
Unruly and Unerring
August 9th, 2017, 12:17 PM
Roxane Gay is a writer of extreme empathy. Her fiction and essays elicit as much shared understanding as they give. Her new memoir, Hunger, is the story of being a physical woman in a physical world that has been shaped for so long by men. And I suspect that every woman who reads Hunger will recognize herself in it. For men who read the book, it will be more of a travelogue. Vade mecum.
Wagner on Trial
August 8th, 2017, 12:17 PM
In Barrie Kosky’s new production of Die Meistersinger, which opened the 2017 Bayreuth Festival, the musical cobbler Hans Sachs has been restyled as his creator Richard Wagner, isolated in the witness box at the Nuremberg Trials, and we the audience have now become the tribunal, passing judgment on him. Sachs, singing of German art, seems to be desperately pleading for absolution after the vicious ways in which German high culture—and especially Wagner’s music—was harnessed to the ideology of Nazism.
Fools, Cowards, or Criminals?
August 8th, 2017, 12:17 PM
Marcel Ophuls’s The Memory of Justice never suggests that Auschwitz and the My Lai massacre, or French torture prisons in Algiers, are equivalent, let alone that the Vietnam War was a criminal enterprise on the same level as the Holocaust. Nor does Ophuls doubt that the judgment on Göring and his gang at Nuremberg was justified. Ophuls himself was a refugee from the Nazis, forced to leave Germany in 1933, and to flee again when France was invaded in 1940. Instead he tries, dispassionately and sometimes with touches of sardonic humor, to complicate the problem of moral judgment. What makes human beings who are normally unexceptional commit atrocities under abnormal circumstances? What if such crimes are committed by our fellow citizens in the name of our own country? How does our commitment to justice appear today in the light of the judgments at Nuremberg? Will the memory of justice, as Plato assumed, make us strive to do better?
The Highest Form of Flattery
August 7th, 2017, 12:17 PM
Like the nineteenth century, our own moment is one at which the expansion of museums and new technologies for the dissemination of images have combined to make the history of art-making seem open to view as never before. Elizabeth Prettejohn's elegant new book reminds us that pastiche and ironic “appropriation” are not the only possible responses to that experience.
The True American
August 6th, 2017, 12:17 PM
These days the question of what it means to be a “true” American resists rational analysis. Whatever one can say about Americans that is true, the opposite is equally true. We are the most godless and most religious, the most puritanical and most libertine, the most charitable and most heartless of societies. We espouse the maxim “that government is best which governs least,” yet look to government to address our every problem. Our environmental conscientiousness is outmatched only by our environmental recklessness. We are outlaws obsessed by the rule of law, individualists devoted to communitarian values, a nation of fat people with anorexic standards of beauty. The only things we love more than nature’s wilderness are our cars, malls, and digital technology. The paradoxes of the American psyche go back at least as far as our Declaration of Independence, in which slave owners proclaimed that all men are endowed by their creator with an unalienable right to liberty.
Ain’t It Always Stephen Stills
August 6th, 2017, 12:17 PM
Stills may be hobbled by arthritis—backstage he bumps fists rather than shakes hands with fans; he has carpal tunnel and residual pain from a long-ago broken hand, which affects his playing—and he is nearly deaf, but his performance life has continued. Drugs and alcohol may have dented him somewhat, forming a kind of carapace over the youthful sensitivity and cockiness one often saw in the face of the young Stills. Some might infer by looking at the spry James Taylor or Mick Jagger that heroin is less hard on the body than cocaine and booze, which perhaps tear down the infrastructure. (“Stills doesn’t know how to do drugs properly,” Keith Richards once said.) But one has to hand it to a rock veteran who still wants to get on stage and make music even when his youthful beauty and once-tender, husky baritone have dimmed. It shows allegiance to the craft, to the life, to the music. It risks a derisive sort of criticism as well as an assault on nostalgia.
Rwanda: Kagame’s Efficient Repression
August 4th, 2017, 12:17 PM
With each election, Rwandan President Kagame has tightened his grip on power, and the elections have increasingly turned into a performance of his authority. Kagame’s control is visible even in seemingly benign events. When he announced a ban on plastic bags, local officials eradicated plastic bags from Rwanda almost at once. When he decreed that all Rwandans should use footwear, Rwandans purchased shoes. Some Rwandans carry their shoes on their heads, so as not to wear them out, and walk in them only when officials are present.
Teju Cole: At the Border of the Visible
August 3rd, 2017, 12:17 PM
Conceived after Teju Cole suffered an attack of papillophlebitis, or “big blind spot syndrome,” in 2011, “Blind Spot” and its companion volume of the same title complete what he calls “a quartet about the limits of vision.” It combines the omnivorous erudition of his 2016 essay collection Known and Strange Things with the associative structure of Every Day is for the Thief (2007) and Open City (2011), peripatetic novels set, respectively, in Lagos and New York. The show is a record of Cole’s extensive travels between 2011 and 2017, but it is less concerned with his own itinerary than with the paths of others.
Our Trouble with Sex: A Christian Story?
August 2nd, 2017, 12:17 PM
What interest do people living in a supposedly secular and liberal society have in regulating perhaps the most intimate aspect of an adult’s life—consensual sexual behavior with another adult? How do people decide which sexual acts, conducted in private, have a public impact and, therefore, become the public’s business? For our purposes, why do Americans think as we do about sex, and how have we used the Constitution, and the laws of the fifty states, to instantiate those beliefs?
Twelve Ways of Looking at Frank Lloyd Wright
August 1st, 2017, 12:17 PM
Few things are more satisfying in the arts than unjustly forgotten figures at last accorded a rightful place in the canon. Then there are the perennially celebrated artists who are so important that they must be presented anew to each successive generation, a daunting task for museums, especially encyclopedic ones that are expected to revisit the major masters over and over again while finding fresh reasons for their relevance. Yet the Museum of Modern Art’s exhibition “Frank Lloyd Wright at 150: Unpacking the Archive” was a more hazardous proposition than its universally beloved subject might indicate.
The Mysterious Music of Georg Trakl
August 1st, 2017, 12:17 PM
Both Wittgenstein and Heidegger found themselves, at pivotal moments in their careers, turning to the arresting work of the early twentieth-century Austrian poet Georg Trakl (1887–1914). Not surprisingly, Wittgenstein and Heidegger responded to Trakl’s striking and still mysterious poems in sharply divergent—one might almost say opposite—ways.
God’s Gift to Men
July 30th, 2017, 12:17 PM
Wonder Woman allows its heroine all the trappings of free, courageous, independent womanhood. It even cheers her on when she bashes up men. It merely propagates the unhelpful myth that if a woman is nice enough, pretty enough, feminine enough, she can do such things without ever causing offense, or being called a bitch.
The End of the End of Obamacare
July 28th, 2017, 12:17 PM
Republicans have been implacable in their determination to put an end to Obama’s proudest legislative achievement ever since it was passed in March 2010. This has as much to do with disdain for our first black president as it does resistance to a historic expansion of government. But the Republicans didn’t reckon on two things: that the program would become popular once people signed on to it; and that after two terms Obama would end up one of our most liked presidents.
Nuclear Diplomacy: From Iran to North Korea?
July 28th, 2017, 12:17 PM
North Korea is years beyond the nuclear “breakout” the US so fears in Iran. Pyongyang’s first nuclear test was more than a decade ago. Four more have followed with yields up to twice the size of the Hiroshima bomb. The country is believed to have around twenty fission bombs and to be progressing along the path to a much larger hydrogen bomb. Moreover, the regime is consistently making faster progress on missile technology than US intelligence has expected.
Why Autocrats Fear LGBT Rights
July 27th, 2017, 12:17 PM
Trump’s campaign ran on promises to “take back” a sense of safety and “bring back” a simpler time. When he pledged to build the wall or to fight a variety of non-existent crime waves (urban, immigrant) he was promising to shield Americans from the strange, the unknown, the unpredictable. Queers can serve as convenient shorthand for change.
How the Communists Helped the Scottsboro Boys
July 27th, 2017, 12:17 PM
To the Editors: I write to give credit where credit is due in one paragraph of Bryan Stevenson’s outstanding essay “A Presumption of Guilt.” It was not the NAACP but rather the International Labor Defense (ILD), the legal arm of the Communist Party USA, that launched the international campaign to save the “Scottsboro Boys” from Alabama’s electric chair. NAACP officials believed that the defense should should be conducted quietly, in the courts. The defendants and their parents chose the Communists, and the NAACP played only a peripheral role in the case.
The First Women Voters
July 27th, 2017, 12:17 PM
To the Editors: In her essay “The Abortion Battlefield,” Marcia Angell writes that “women couldn’t vote in the United States until 1920.” This is incorrect. The Nineteenth Amendment, ratified in 1920, did grant the universal right of women to vote. However, for decades before this federal constitutional amendment American women voted in certain towns, cities, counties, and states.
A New View of Grenada’s Revolution
July 26th, 2017, 12:17 PM
Before 1983, Grenada was best known for producing, along with its famous spice, the great calypso singer Mighty Sparrow. Afterward, it was known for the traumas left by a sad episode of the cold war whose legacy, for our current political era, is the subject of a welcome new documentary film, The House on Coco Road, directed by Damani Baker.
Tenants Under Siege: Inside New York City’s Housing Crisis
July 26th, 2017, 12:17 PM
New York City is in the throes of a humanitarian emergency, a term defined by the Humanitarian Coalition of large international aid organizations as “an event or series of events that represents a critical threat to the health, safety, security or wellbeing of a community or other large group of people.” New York’s is what aid groups would characterize as a “complex emergency”: man-made and shaped by a combination of forces that have led to a large-scale “displacement of populations” from their homes. What makes the crisis especially startling is that New York has the most progressive housing laws in the country and a mayor who has made tenants’ rights and affordable housing a central focus of his administration.
A Possible Keats
July 24th, 2017, 12:17 PM
A year before leaving Enfield—the Georgian-style school building would later be converted into a train station and then ultimately be demolished—John Keats discovered Books. Books were the spoils left by the Incas, by Captain Cook’s voyages, Robinson Crusoe. He went to battle in Lemprière’s dictionary of classical myth, among the reproductions of ancient sculptures and marbles, the annals of Greek fable, in the arms of goddesses.
The Nose of the Master
July 22nd, 2017, 12:17 PM
“Henry James and American Painting,” a compact but wonderfully heterogeneous show at the Morgan Library, includes a comprehensive selection of Jamesian portraits along with other paintings of and by his friends. James liked sitting, and the exhibition includes a round dozen of his many portraits; more probably than have ever been gathered in one place before.
The Artist’s Closet
July 21st, 2017, 12:17 PM
When I was a senior in high school, I wrote to one of my favorite artists, Maira Kalman, and asked if she had interns and if she'd like one. She said I could come reorganize her moss collection, walk her dog, and meet her mother. It was like peeking behind the curtain and finding the thing you'd both hoped for and dreaded: the actors still perfectly in character.
A Test for Consciousness?
July 20th, 2017, 12:17 PM
Parks: You can’t prove, scientifically, this idea of experience being buffered or delayed in neural eddies. Manzotti: At this stage, no. Neuroscientists can’t disprove it, or prove that the experience is “generated” in the head. But let’s remember, we do science by forming a hypothesis, making predictions in line with that hypothesis, and inventing experiments that prove or disprove the hypothesis.
Hacking the Vote: Who Helped Whom?
July 19th, 2017, 12:17 PM
In the waning days of the 2016 campaign Trump’s data team knew exactly which voters in which states they needed to persuade on Facebook and Twitter and precisely what messages to use. The question is: How did the Russians know this, too? Largely ignored in this discussion is one possibility: that the Russians themselves, through their hacking of Democratic Party records, had better information than Trump.
An Elusive Cold War Star
July 19th, 2017, 12:17 PM
When Van Cliburn died in 2013, he was by far the most famous concert pianist in American history, although he had effectively retired from performance decades before. His had been a strange and complicated life.
Birds Like Us
July 18th, 2017, 12:17 PM
“Quentin Blake: The Life of Birds,” drawn from the archive held by the House of Illustration in London, is a tiny exhibition, but one of pure, quirky joy. Blake is best known as an illustrator of children’s books, including most of Roald Dahl’s. Oddly, the human traits that Blake illustrates seem clearer and sharper in these birds than in his drawings of people, perhaps because without the human features we see only the revealing shorthand of gesture, expression, and movement.
The Making of the Tabloid Presidency
July 17th, 2017, 12:17 PM
Joshua Green’s new book, Devil’s Bargain, argues that Trumpism is best understood through the president’s partnership with Stephen K. Bannon, now his chief political strategist. Green has been writing about conservatives since the George W. Bush years. It is a testament to his adroit intertwining of Bannon’s story with Trump’s that we’re not certain which of the two figures has sold the bigger part of himself to the other. In the broader sense, they are coauthors of our moment’s tabloid conservatism.